First surgical procedure performed at Pagosa Mountain Hospital

Even as Pagosa Mountain Hospital (PMH) works toward fully equipping its two-room surgery suite, its first surgical procedure is in the books.

On the morning of Nov. 4, Dr. James Pruitt performed the 30-minute operation to remove a patient’s recurrent basal cell carcinoma. Nurse Judy Cole assisted with the outpatient procedure, which only required local anesthesia. The patient was released soon after.

While the hospital’s first surgery was a relatively minor procedure, the 10-month-old medical facility is gearing up for more complex operations in the coming months. According to hospital CEO Brad Cochennet, the hospital now has equipment sufficient to perform the most basic of procedures, with additional instruments and apparatus ordered and expected soon.

When asked what other procedures PMH might offer and when, Cochennet said, “We’ll probably do a couple more like the first before the end of the year, but doctors really decide when and where they want to do things. We have more equipment coming, but we’re still in discussion with the docs who will travel here to perform surgeries.”

Nevertheless, sometime after the first of the year, Cochennet believes visiting surgeons will begin performing colonoscopies, endoscopies, cataract surgeries and other simple procedures at PMH.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Rural Health Center (CRHC) of Aurora, Colo. donated a portable water purification unit to PMH just yesterday. The unit is one of 73 being given to acute care hospitals throughout Colorado, in order to augment emergency preparedness programs and procedures.

In mid-March 2008, Alamosa officials discovered Salmonella contamination in the city’s water supply. During the three weeks that followed, nearly 390 cases of Salmonella infection were reported, with more than a hundred confirmed by laboratory testing and at least 16 people hospitalized.

The emergency triggered a mandatory communitywide bottled water order by state health officials, thus causing the local hospital to rely on bottled water while providing patient care. It quickly became apparent that hospitals should have alternative water sources.

The portable purification unit from CRHC — manufactured by Noah Water Systems — will enhance PMH’s ability to provide safe water to patients and staff during an emergency, without increasing the amount of water it must store. After all, providing safe drinking water is a key component in emergency preparedness plans.

Assisting hospitals with emergency preparations is CRHC’s primary function. Founded in 1991 as the nation’s first nonprofit rural health office, it originally employed just one person. Today, with 15 full-time employees working in new and expanded Aurora offices, it is one of only three nonprofit rural health agencies in the country.

Under Colorado tax laws, Archuleta County is considered an Enhanced Rural Enterprise Zone. An enterprise zone is an economically distressed area in which special tax incentives are offered to businesses that expand or locate within the zone. The purpose is to create new jobs and investments in the area, and Pagosa Mountain Hospital certainly fits that criteria.

Therefore, taxpayers making monetary or in-kind contributions to the hospital may claim an income tax credit of 25 percent of the value of the contribution, up to a maximum credit of $100,000.

Few hospitals are able to fully function without charitable contributions, particularly those smaller rural facilities in need of help offsetting exorbitant start-up or expansion costs.

Many gracious folks have donated significant time, services and sums of money to PMH since its inception. As a result, Pagosa Springs and surrounding communities now have a fine acute care facility that greatly enhances our local healthcare system.

With ongoing support, the range of quality medical services provided by Pagosa Mountain Hospital will continually expand. The Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Foundation happily receives and manages benevolent hospital gifts, and prospective donors can contact it by visiting the hospital at 95 S. Pagosa Blvd., Pagosa Springs, or by calling the foundation at 731-9545.

chuck@pagosasun.com